I gave my homecoming talk in church today and it was pretty good. Seriously - I haven't been in this much of a missionary mode since... well, since I got on the plane in Jacksonville. So, I decided to share the happiness with you all - Enjoy!
(side note: I didn't give this word-for-word. Really, this was my train of thought as I wrote it up. But you get the basic idea)
Mission Homecoming talk - August 16, 2009
When most people come home from their missions, they give a sort of “travelogue” about all the miraculous experiences that they had on their mission - try to let those things speak for themselves and let it go at that. But I’ve decided to go a bit deeper and speak on something that made my mission - actually my entire testimony of the gospel - very miraculous. Hopefully it will enhance your testimony more than a list of great mission stories - not that there’s anything wrong with mission stories - but I can tell you a few of those later.
I served in the South, which is also referred to as the “ .” The vast majority of people are already Christian - mostly Catholic and Baptist. Typically, you don’t expect to have a whole lot of success in convert baptisms. That’s the general idea in the Church, anyway. And most of the people I met tracting, etc. gave us the response “Oh, we already have a church that we are happy with” - the same way you would say you are happy with your family doctor or insurance company. The bottom line is that many of these people figure that they already know who Christ is, they read the Bible, they go to their churches, listen to their preachers and that’s all they need. Church - “real life” the other six days of the week. Stick a fish on the back of your car and you’re saved. Hallelujah, praise the Lord, shout amen.
If that were the case, why send missionaries to Florida, anyway? If any old Christian church will do, why should we even bother preaching the gospel to the people who “know it all?” Why would our teach us to invite people to baptism at the doorstep if they’ve “already been” baptized into some other church?
[quote by Elder Ballard - “Unless we [can] offer people spiritual insights and understanding they [can’t] receive anywhere else, there really [isn’t] much reason for them to listen to us.”]
This - [pic of the First Vision] - is the reason we send missionaries everywhere. I don’t think a lot of us in the Church really understand how important the First Vision is. I certainly didn’t before I left home. I didn’t know how important it was that we have a living prophet or the priesthood or any of the things that were restored through the .
[review the story of the Restoration - by the way, religious strife is alive and well in the South. I think the problems in 1820 Palmyra just migrating down the east coast. Probably the only time people of Christian beliefs can agree is when atheists try to take religion out of public life. [[pardon for getting slightly political - you can take the girl out of the ... political debate...]].]
[ - “I saw a pillar of light…” -- either quote of read it. Doesn‘t really matter much…]
The First Vision and the set us apart from all the other Christian churches. They are a sign that the Lord’s true church has been restored. God is not limited to one tiny book. Think about it - the God of the whole universe, our Heavenly Father, wants us to return to Him and you think all he’d give us is one 1,000-some-odd page book? Playboy and harlequin romance novels have probably published more material than that in the past 20 years. Satan has plenty of weapons in his arsenal and he’s not going to stop using them. Don’t tell me that God isn’t going to go above and beyond what Satan can do.
The First Vision is such a miraculous thing. Everyone has to go through their own Grove at some point in their lives. There were certain people that, when they heard us quote the First Vision from Joseph Smith-History, they felt the Spirit testify to them that it really did happen. The Spirit testifies of truth and He cannot lie. Now, not everyone that felt the Spirit got baptized, unfortunately - but plenty of them did. The Florida Jacksonville Mission set as a goal for baptisms 650 in 2008 and 1050 in 2009. Now, I don’t know that those numbers will impress my brother when he gets back from Argentina (I guess he has 29 people with baptismal dates - which, that was huge in Florida if you had that and they all got baptized) -- but we knew that the Lord was preparing people to hear the gospel and accept it (Alma 13:24). And a lot of them did - we baptized 665 people in 2008 and when I left in July, we were on track for the 1050 in 2009.
[as an aside - in other missions the Southeast area, the average number of people that a missionary would baptize in a year was about 2-3. In our mission, the average number of people a missionary would baptize in a year was 8-9].
It may not seem like it, but people are waiting to hear the gospel. The elect are out there (D&C 29:7). Even when we were looking for the “low-hanging fruit” - we found them. Because of the Grove.
Joseph was a prophet. He was the Prophet of the Restoration. If you don’t know that with all your heart, you better find out. If you already know it, you’d better keep knowing it. Any time you have any kind of struggle or problem - in or out of Church life, ask yourself - Did Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appear to Joseph Smith in the grove? Did They call that boy to be their prophet? Did Joseph translate the by the gift and power of God? Did Christ appear to the Nephites in Bountiful? If the answer to those questions is yes (and I know that they are) - things will turn out okay because everything we believe and hold dear - everything that is true in this world - stems from those questions.
You will know by the Spirit that these things are true. There’s plenty of scientific/empirical/historical evidence - but if you know by the Spirit, there’s nothing that can shake you. So many people look at the Church as a superficial thing (sort of like some disaffected people formerly of other faiths do), but that social outlook on religion doesn’t sustain you through storms and I saw so many people that had fallen away from the Church because of whatever lame excuse they have. They have a testimony, but they aren’t converted. So, I challenge you to get converted this minute. The Spirit is testifying to you that these things are true - and the Spirit doesn’t come just because you want to feel happy or whatever. The Spirit invites you to act - whether that’s to be a better person or to take Church more seriously or whatever that is.
People have lost hope - even hope in God. So many think that all the have to hope in is themselves and the government (ha. ha. Oh, that's a good one) But because of the Restoration of the gospel, we know that this life is not all that there is. There is not a people more blessed than we.
Believe in Christ - believe that He lives. Believe that He was born in Bethlehem and suffered and died in Jerusalem. Believe that He is risen. Believe that He appeared in Bountiful to the Nephites and that is recorded in the Book of Mormon. Believe that He and His Father appeared to a 14-year-old boy in response to a prayer. Believe that Christ is the Head of this Church and that this Church is the only way you can find true happiness. Believe that this is the only answer to the problems in the world. Because it is. It’s really bold to say that - and there are people that don’t like to hear it, but it’s true and we don’t have to be wimpy about it. Don’t be arrogant - because there’s nothing to be arrogant about. But it’s true. And lots of people are looking for the truth (possibly some in this room).
Then I ended with my testimony.